Less than an hour's drive from the popular resort city of Varna in Bulgaria lies one of the world's most important archeological discoveries: the oldest prehistoric village ever found in Europe.

 

The walled, fortified village dates back to 4,700 B.C. — centuries before the foundation of ancient Greek civilization — and includes huge stone walls, two-story houses, ritual pits and a necropolis full of bones. Archeologists estimate that about 350 people lived in the settlement.

 

"We are not talking about a town like the Greek city-states, ancient Rome or medieval settlements, but about what archeologists agree constituted a town in the fifth millennium B.C.," Vasil Nikolov, a researcher with Bulgaria's National Institute of Archeology, told AFP.

 

Nikolov and his team publicly announced the discovery of the ancient village in October. They have been excavating at the site since 2005.

 

Not only is this the oldest such village found to date in Europe, it is also the first site in southern Europe to show signs of salt production. Salt, it seems, was the reason for the huge stone walls that protected the village. "Salt was an extremely valued commodity in ancient times, as it was both necessary for people's lives and was used as a method of trade and currency," Nikolov told AFP. He said that at the time, salt was at least as precious as gold is today.

 

In fact, archeologists theorize that the salt was traded for gold. The oldest horde of gold objects ever unearthed was found outside of Varna 40 years ago, according to the BBC, which says the salt trade must have been linked to that discovery.